Writing duo Kurt Kansley and Oliver Lidert brought Confessions to Home Grown at Chapel off Chapel earlier in the year, and are now out to conquer the West End with the show. Ahead of their run at The Other Palace, off West End, I spoke to them about what they’ve been up to since returning to the UK, and how they’ve been putting together Confessions for it’s London debut.
“We’ve been talking about getting Confessions up for some time, and after Kurt finished the Home Grown concert, the minute he got back we were like, what’s next? We were actually approached by the artistic programming at The Other Palace – they came and watched our workshop back in May, a year a go. They saw it, they loved it, we got offered a week and we jumped! We were able to find an investor, and we jumped,” said Lidert.
Starring Joanna Woodward, Tanisha Spring and Thao Nguyen, this is a workshop performance, where some parts the actors will be off book, but the show is designed to have a full set, costumes and more in the future. Confessions is a show about female spies and women in spy movies, who they are, what they are thinking, and transforms them from side character sex objects to non-disposable characters in their own right.
“There’s nothing quite like Confessions. As much as it’s a musical and fun, it’s also very much a political statement, and I think that’s its underlying controversy,” said Lidert.
“The concept came right after our show with Rachel John and that’s when Kurt came to me and said ‘I’ve loved this so much, we have to do our next show!’ At the time, he said, ‘We could use songs from spy movies! And women could sing them and we could tell their stories!’ We looked at it and went okay, this could be fun, but how would we weave that story?,” Lidert said.
The idea transformed from existing songs to creating their own musical, focusing on female centric narrative, strong female characters and diverse casting, but they were extremely conscious about being two men writing a story about three women.
“From the get go, I brought in a friend of mine to be our dramaturge, and said, ‘We need your perspective’. I would ask her questions like, ‘When you fell in love with a guy that was toxic for you, what was that like?’ Because I don’t know what that’s like. I asked her, ‘Is it possible to fall in love with a man like that? Do you know that he’s toxic when you’re with him?’ And her perspective helped piece together the truth we were looking for. We want that process throughout the piece, so we would like a really strong female director to direct this in the future,” Lidert explained.
The show is forward on diverse casting – while the characteristics of race or skin colour are never mentioned in the show, it’s written into the contract of the show that any future versions of Confessions must have a diverse cast.
“It’s three women: this is their experience, this is where they’re from; this is how they’ve navigated their circumstances. They all fall in love, they all get angry, they all want revenge – there’s nothing that defines them of being of a place or of a race, they just are,” said Kansley.
“You only move the goal post when the writing is new. That’s why we’re saying, let us create those characters. Our Connie, while she is black and British its not her definitely characteristic, it’s not even mentioned in the show that she’s black and British, because Connie is Connie. Even though she’s written that’s where she’s from, we don’t stereotype it,” said Lidert.
“They’re three very different women, they’re three different ethnicities and they’re also supposed to be from three different generations as well, where our oldest one is in her 40s, our middle on is in her 30s and the youngest one in her 20s. For the purpose of the workshop, we weren’t able to do that but we have three amazing girls doing it, who will bring that sense,” said Lidert on his vision for the show.
There are also no men in the show – only the three women, and a series of projected silhouettes
“One of our dramaturges said to us, the joy of this piece is not only that it’s played by three women, it’s rigorously played by three women. The three women are equally featured; they have to work extremely hard to create these characters,” said Kansley.
“We discussed the idea of having chorus guys who come in, but eventually we settled on this idea that this was not their story; if you’re going to see a man, it’s only in silhouette, because it’s the women’s memory of it or them. The women are the focal point of the show,” said Lidert, who comes from a family of three strong women.
Kansley and Lidert are doing all the bits of it at this stage – they wrote the show, they’re producing it, they found investors, they’re doing their own publicity, and even graphic design!
“It’s been hard work,” they both laugh.
“The two of us have been in the business a long time, and we’ve been putting on projects and producing other little bits and bobs for the last five years, not all our own work. When you don’t have a budget, you learn how to use Photoshop, you learn how to social media, and you adapt,” said Lidert.
“And in many ways it’s been great, because we have so much control over it in this development stage. And really the point of this week is so we can attract the right investors, the right producers, who want to go on this ride with us, and hopefully lock in the right director …,” said Kansley.
They often talk over each other, with unbridled passion for the subjects we discuss.
“We want longevity. We respect the dreamers more than anybody, because we are, but when we make our arrival, which now we are, we want to show people that it’s not just this musical, we have three other musicals in the pipeline, and that we’re here to stay. We’re serious about it and we’ve been working on Confessions for five years,” said Lidert.
They’re hoping after the Other Palace run that a producer will pick up the show and develop it into a full scale production, and they can see it come to it’s full fruition, while they workshop Autumn Rhythm, one of their next shows, in Australia, and to begin a working pipeline of shows.
They have three other shows in the works: Autumn Rhythm, a show about Jackson Pollock and his work, Hashed Out, a song cycle which will open in it’s premiere performance at the VCA in October, and Fabled, which is the story of a young girl who through magical circumstances gets transported back to the past where she meets Aesop, with a fun hip hop and R’n’B score.
They’re heading back to Australia later this year to spend a chunk of timing writing, because of the work ethic out there. Plus, Kansley is starring in The Production Company’s Ragtime in October.
“The buzz, particularly in Melbourne is really good. They’re keen, they work hard, Kurt and I have been very fortunate to have worked on the West End, to have worked in the United States and seen how it functions, and so growing things there is a really exciting opportunity, so we can bring that knowledge back,” said Lidert.
Confessions plays at The Other Palace from Monday 17 to Saturday 22 June.
More info: http://www.kansleyandlidert.com/ or follow them on Instagram.